PORTLAND (AP) – The Maine Principal’s Association applauded a U.S. District Court decision that excludes two home-schooled students from Wells from running track for a religious school.

But the father of Douglas and Laura Pelletier said he may appeal Judge D. Brock Hornby’s ruling. In the meantime, Sam Pelletier said his children would not compete on any team this track season.

“It’s more about faith than it is about running,” Pelletier said. “We were just hoping to make it easier for some home schoolers coming up behind us. I wish it was over, but I’m afraid it isn’t.”

Hornby ruled Friday that home-schooled student-athletes in Maine can play on their local public school team or on no team at all, in keeping with the bylaws of the MPA, which oversees school sports.

Hornby said while the MPA rules could be more flexible, the policy does not deny a parent’s right to educational choice or religious freedom.

The rule “may have unhappy consequences for the Pelletier family, and perhaps people of good will could work out a better rule that would accommodate all interests,” Hornby wrote. “But I conclude that the MPA rule does not infringe upon the free exercise of religion and parental choice in education, and does not violate the United States Constitution.”

The ruling means that high school senior Douglas Pelletier and eighth-grader Laura will not be able to participate this season on the Seacoast Christian School track team. The two, who are home-schooled for religious reasons, ran for the school in the fall cross-country championships.

Dick Durost, MPA executive director, said the policy is needed to prevent the creation a system of athletic free agency for home-schooled students.

“If the judge had found in their favor, in essence, home schoolers could shop around for any private school team they wanted,” Durost said. “They would have options that aren’t available to any students that are enrolled in either public or private schools.”

He said Maine is one of a minority of states that allows home-schooled athletes to compete in interscholastic sports, and Maine rules for participation are among the most liberal in the country.

The MPA’s attorney, Margaret Coughlin LaPage, said a ruling in the Pelletiers’ favor could have caused chaos in Maine school sports.

If home-schooled athletes were allowed to choose between schools, she said, it would be difficult to deny enrolled students the same right. That would open the door to high school recruiting and possibly games between school teams made up of non-students. “It creates a potential for an unlevel playing field,” she said.

Pelletier dismissed LaPage’s fears.

“Home schoolers make up 1.4 percent of the school population, and not all of them are athletes. What kind of chaos would that cause?” he said.

It is unclear how many students the ruling affects. There are about 1,200 high school age home-schooled students in Maine, but there is no accurate count of how many participate in sports, Durost said.

Before the MPA sent out a letter this fall reminding private schools about the MPA’s long-standing policy, about a dozen home-schooled students were playing on private school teams. None, he believes, are still playing, and no school has been sanctioned for breaking the rule.

AP-ES-05-10-03 1001EDT

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